THE idea of so-called 'Benefits Streets' where no-one works is a myth, a North-East researcher and academic has said.

Professor Rob MacDonald of Teesside University said research indicated that whole streets where families have never worked “simply don’t exist.”

Prof MacDonald, who has issued a research paper on the subject with other academics, made his comments following Channel 4’s decision to film its reality TV series called Benefits Street on Stockton’s Kingston Road.

A previous version of the programme filmed on James Turner Street in Birmingham was dubbed ‘poverty porn’ by campaigners worried about stigmatisation of people on benefits.

The academic has released a paper titled Benefits Street and the Myth of Workless Communities with colleagues Professor Tracy Shildrick from Leeds University and Professor Andy Furlong from Glasgow University.

The researchers examined two working class neighbourhoods with high rates of worklessness and social deprivation, which had suffered economic decline; one in Glasgow and one in Middlesbrough. A total of 20 families or 47 people, took part in the study.

Professor MacDonald said: “The idea of 'benefit ghettos' where unemployment is a 'lifestyle choice' is a powerful one that helps justify the Government's cuts to welfare budgets. Yet our research has demonstrated that this is a myth, in the sense that it does not reflect the facts of the matter.”

No figures are available for Kingston Road, but in Stockton North where the street is located unemployment is running at 9.8 per cent with 21 per cent of the population on benefits. Stockton has been identified as having one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country at over 25 per cent.

Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North where the filming is taking place, strongly criticised the film-makers Love Productions, the organisation making the programme for Channel 4.

He said: “Programmes like Benefits Street are not serious documentaries, despite claims made by the producers to be giving a voice to people who otherwise would not have one. Instead, they are crude and gimmicky entertainment shows out to make a fast buck for television executives, trivialising important issues and perpetuating negative stereotypes by exploiting those people entitled to state support to make ends meet.”

A spokesman for Love Productions said that the academic’s research had been available for some time and in fact the film-makers never claimed that most people on either Kingston Road or James Turner Street were unemployed. “The programme is an honest depiction of life on these streets,” he said.